Individuals with a mental health diagnosis make up nearly half of the 480,000 annual tobacco use deaths in the United States. Here in Maine and across the country, tobacco use is significant in behavioral health populations. In an effort to provide a healthier environment for both our patients and our care team members, Maine Behavioral Healthcare has partnered with the Breathe Easy initiative to adopt tobacco-free policies across all service areas.
The policy changes created a lifestyle shift for staff and patients alike. Challenges were especially profound for our residential teams, who observed clients utilizing the act of smoking, not only as a means for passage of time and socialization, but as a way of staving off the sedating effects of psychotropic medications. During the transition, staff and clients received information about tobacco use, treatment options and how tobacco use impacts other addictions. Evidence suggests that stopping tobacco product use can actually increase chances of maintaining abstinence from other substances.
Over the past year, Maine Behavioral Healthcare residential staff have continuously displayed a commitment to the wellness of our patients – both mental and physical. One residential counselor, Kim Gerard, noted the program’s growing success.
Kim Gerard, MHRT-C
“There is a long and strong culture of smoking cigarettes among those suffering with mental illness,” said Kim Gerard, MHRT-C, a residential care worker in Rockland. Kim noted that, up to recently, she felt mostly accepting of this culture. That perspective shifted when one of her residents, one who she believed to have quit smoking, died of smoking-induced COPD. “I was saddened that the person whom I had come to know and thought I had a trusting relationship with, had carried this secret for so long. We have now created an environment where, if someone did want to quit their tobacco use, it would be easier to do.”
With the support of our Center for Tobacco Independence program team, the policy is not only being accepted, but also awarded.
Maine Behavioral Healthcare residential programs have earned the Gold Star Standard of Excellence from Breathe Easy Maine for the second year in a row for their implementation of tobacco-free policies. The Gold Star Standard of Excellence program recognizes Maine institutions for their work addressing tobacco use through tobacco-free policies. The program aims to encourage and support behavioral health organizations and providers who seek to optimize the health of their clients and employees.
We are grateful to our dedicated teams whose commitment to addressing tobacco use will surely have a lasting and positive impact on our staff, clients and community as a whole. Congratulations on another year of achieving the Gold Star Standard of Excellence.